Friday, September 25, 2009

A New Blog

A friend from my college days launched a blog this week. Kathleen @SouthForte Farms writes about her adventures as a wife, mother, homemaker, and homeschooled student tuned homeschooling mom. Her posts are helpful, encouraging and down-right funny.

If you like Olive Plants, you'll really like SouthForte Farms. Hop on over and give Kathleen a visit. Be sure to tell her that Dawn sent you. ;)

Can you guess...

What happened here?

a. A small forest creature took residence in our living room?

b. The Wicked Witch of the West melted through our hardwood floor?

c. I finally had time to cut the men folks' hair.


I wonder which it could be....

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Product Review: Nutrition 101

Each week we spend Monday afternoons with my mom (Nohnie) and complete school at her house. I set aside this time for us to do educational activities with her, like music lessons or field trips, so that we can enjoy the blessings of a multi-generational study. When I told my mom about the latest product I received to review, Nutrition 101: Choose Life from Growing Healthy Homes, she requested to be included in the study. Nutrition 101 was a perfect fit for our multi-gen time as it is written for students of all ages, moms and grandmas included.

It teaches nutrition by integrating health studies into the teaching of the systems of the human body. For instance, in the first unit, Nutrition 101 students read about the brain and the nervous system. Then they are taught about Omega Fatty Acids and B-vitamins. Both of these impact the healthy performance of the nervous system and are taught within the context of the anatomy/biology lessons.

There are six units, each of which covers a different body system, and each unit is broken into chapters that contain well-written, informative content, full-color pictures, discussion questions, activities, additional resources, and "power recipes". Questions and activities are provided for younger and for older students, and the power recipes contain ingredients that promote the optimal function of the matching body system. The integration of health/nutrition into the study of biology/anatomy made both more interesting, probably because both areas of study seemed more applicable when presented together. The activities were all very fun and high interest, and the recipes were simple to fix and very tasty (though some ingredients were a little pricey).

A five-day schedule is suggested. Since Nohnie could not participate with us five days per week, we tweaked it a little to fit our needs. During our Monday meeting, we read one chapter together. I received the e-book version and did not want to print it. Nohnie presented a great solution which I am now using for all e-books. We connected my laptop to a projector and displayed the book on the living room wall.

I projected pictures with the full-screen option.

The text could be read very clearly off the full-screen display.

We were able to see the pages easily without crowding around the computer and were able to take turns reading. The pictures looked fabulous, too. The boys thought they were watching a movie and forgot that they were reading their lessons!

After we read, we chose an activity or two from the suggestions within the curriculum. The next Monday, we discussed the activities we were able to complete on our own during the week (like brushing our teeth with our dominate and non-dominate hand) or completed others that needed to be done as a group (like playing a 20-question game). These were all enjoyable and added to the study.

I would have liked Nutrition 101 a little more had more of the instructional ideas and activities focused more directly on the biology/anatomy concepts. To be fair, the main purpose of Nutrition 101 is to teach about healthy eating, and it hits the mark there. However, so much good information on the function of the systems of the human body is presented that I wanted to take the learning further in that direction and had to supplement with additional resources, games, and worksheets geared more directly toward biology.

The last thing we did each Monday was prepare the power recipe and have a tasty and healthy afternoon snack. As we ate, I used this time to review the content and discuss the nutrients contained within each food and which parts of our body we were positively impacting. The boys were often times hesitant about eating certain foods. They are picky eaters, but the program offers many suggestions on working through this. The boys were challenged each week to try new foods and found that they liked more than they thought they did or would.

Nutrition 101 also contains over 30 appendices that are chock full of related and helpful information, such as the nutritional value of particular foods and how to select produce. We used the produce-selection appendix often as the boys selected all the produce we needed for the recipes. There are also full-color charts and pictures within the appendices that made it very easy to use with young children.

I give Nutrition 101: Choose Life two thumbs up. We are all, mom and grandma included, learning so much and changing the way we think about food in the process. You can order the Nutrition 101: Choose Life CD-ROM for $79.95. A printed version is available for $99.95, or you can by the CD-ROM and printed version combo for $129.95.

Product Review: Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services

Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services (EDUDPS) was a company with which I was unfamiliar before I received four of their products for review. I am glad we have been introduced. If you have not heard of them either, please, allow me to introduce you to them.

Roots and Fruits
($11.25 for e-book version, currently on sale from $14.98)

Roots and Fruits is a comprehensive vocabulary curriculum for grades K through 12. The author, Jill J. Dixon, holds a B.S. in English Education and a masters degree in Special Education. In her eighteen years of teaching experience, in public, private, and home education settings, she noticed that the majority of students do not possess good vocabulary skills. Even among the home-educated, who tend to be avid readers, she found a notable weakness in their understanding of vocabulary.

She devised this program to help "increase the vocabulary, reading, and spelling skills of our students in just 15 minutes per day." (Roots and Fruits, p. 5) When I read this, I had my doubts… not about increasing my children's vocabulary skills. I questioned the 15 minute part. My children never want to do vocabulary exercises or write sentences, and it always takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r to complete them.

The program teaches 673 Greek or Latin roots and 1716 vocabulary words (derivatives containing these roots). Each week the teacher may choose one or two roots to introduce. Each root is accompanied by a set of related vocabulary words to master. Ms. Dixon offers a five-day schedule for teaching each set which includes dictionary use, sentence writing, and a variety of games.

My boys loved it all! On Sunday nights, after the boys were in bed, I created a chart for two roots and their matching vocabulary words. I taped them to our supply cabinet in the classroom. Every Monday morning, they went directly to the classroom to see the new chart. I'm not exaggerating when I say it was like the Christmas morning dash to the tree.

We loved, loved, loved the games, too. Fourteen different game ideas are included, and we played 10 of them. They were simple to implement (not a lot of prep time needed), effective, and fun. Oh, and it really did take about 15 minutes per day to complete each assignment. The lessons are chunked into short tasks. A little each day is all it takes to accomplish a lot in the course of a week.

I give this curriculum two thumbs up and will continue to teach from it, probably for years to come.

Write with the Best Vol. 1 for Grades 3-12
($14.95 for the e-book, currently on sale from $19.95)
Vol. 2 for Grades 6-12
($18.65 for the e-book, currently on sale from $24.95)

When we want our children to recognize and create masterful art, what do we do? We show them the work of accomplished artists, right?

When we want to them learn to play a musical instrument, we pay for lessons from someone who has mastered the instrument. Likewise, we provide the experiences of listening to orchestrated works.

Whether these experiences are found online, in books, or at museums and concert halls, we know that our children will benefit from the opportunity of seeing, hearing, and experiencing the work of someone accomplished.

When we want our children to write masterfully, shouldn't we do likewise?

That is the starting point of Jill J. Dixon's Write with the Best program. Each lesson within the two volumes begins by having the student analyze an excerpt from a classic work of literature during pre-writing. Through this process, she teaches how a masterful writer uses words to create a written work-of-art. She then leads the student through the writing process in small, daily steps until they have completed a home-published piece of their own.

I have mentioned before on my blog that we dedicate about an hour to a "writer's workshop" each day. This curriculum fit perfectly into the 35 minute block for the writing process. I taught Wilbur from Vol. 1 and Orville from Vol. 2. It just-so-happened that unit one in each taught to each boy's particular weakness as a writer.

Wilbur wrote a descriptive paragraph
. He is imaginative and does not enjoy what he considers to be "bland" writing. He learned through this process that expository writing does not have to be bland or boring.

Orville wrote a free verse poem
. He is the opposite of his brother and enjoys straight-forward, factual, logical writing. The less rule-oriented writing of free verse threw him for a loop. He was upset by the lack of punctuation!

You can click the links I just provided to hop over to their blog, The Write Brothers, and read their published works.

I hope you were impressed with the results. I was and I give Write with the Best two BIG thumbs up and plan to continue to teach from both volumes.

The Complete Career, College, and High School Guide for Homeschoolers
($26.20 for the e-book, currently on sale from $34.95)

The Career Guide includes four assessments and tons of information to help you serve as your child's guidance counselor.

I used this to assess Orville. Since I received the e-book, I had him read the tests from the computer screen and tell me his answers. I made notes on a sheet of notebook paper to save myself the expense of printing.

The assessments gave us a clear understanding of his learning styles, work preferences, and other aspects of his personality that could effect his choice of vocation. Though Orville is young and has many years before he must determine his calling, he enjoyed the assessments, and the other contents in the guide made him think more deeply about certain fields he is already considering.

In addition to the tests, there are a number of suggested college majors, careers, and vocations with recommendations on which could be the best match for your student based on his profile.

There are also recommendations on exploring career choices before graduating high school and on how to prepare for particular areas of study/vocations. I appreciated that the guide promotes the idea of one's career being his calling and speaks distinctly to future men and future women. Young men are prompted to consider how their career choice will effect their homelife, and fruitfulness from home is not ruled out for young women.

Even though Orville is young, taking these assessments was profitable. Knowing his learning style and work preferences helps me as his teacher, and there are immediate applications that I can make. In thinking about a career, he is too young to make definite plans. However, I will use many of the suggestions for exploring options with him during his middle school and high school years.

EDUDPS offers more products than the four I reviewed, including The Concise Learning Styles Assessment, The Homeschooler's Guide to Learning Problems, and The Homeschooler's Guide to Attention Difficulties. All of their products are very reasonably priced, in my opinion, and I plan to buy a few of their other offerings. Their products are also available in printed form, bound or unbound. Prices vary. Click the links to the individual products for details.

Overall, I give EDUDPS two BIG thumbs up. I am glad we were introduced. I think you will be too.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Product Review: A Journey Through Learning

"Never judge a book by its cover," they say.

I have learned that saying holds true for lapbooks, too.

When I first encountered lapbooks, I just did not get it. I thought it looked too "cookie-cutter" for my style and judged it to be like painting by number. I am a creative type, and paint-by-number art… well, don't get me started.

Then I received five lapbooks with study guides from A Journey Through Learning. Amphibians, Reptiles, Autumn, Deserts, and Parables of a King were the titles that I received. I was required to complete one for my review and having the opinion of lapbooks that I did, one was all I cared to complete. I let Wilbur choose which they would do, and he wanted to explore the topic of Amphibians.

Okay, great. I'm not too crazy about those slimy little critters either. But I opened up the file (I received all five as e-books… more about that in a minute) and started getting organized. As I did, my opinion began to change.

If you are not familiar with lapbooks, they are usually completed by adhering three manila file folders together and then gluing in a collection of mini-projects, usually booklets on various aspects of the overall topic. This is what ours looked liked upon completion.

As I read through the instructions and study guide, I learned that lapbooks are not paint-by-number at all. In the lapbooks I received, there are templates for each of the booklets to be completed. However, there is a lot of room for creative thought in forming answers to the questions and completing the tasks. Several of the booklets required higher-order thinking, like the "Compare and Contrast Frogs and Toads" chart.

All the information we needed to complete the lapbook was contained within the thorough study guide. I really liked having a concise source that matched the tasks directly. No reading mounds of books. No searching online. The information was presented well, and we were able to work straight through the guide easily. This meant that each day we were able to complete 3-4 booklets within about half-an-hour.

The e-book format allowed me only to print the pages we needed, too. We gathered around my computer to read the study guide pages for the day and then printed off the templates that matched. The boys worked independently at their desks while completing the booklets and returned to the computer to reread the study guide as needed. The very clear directions, along with the color-coded visual aides, allowed them to place their completed work within the lapbook with ease. In fact, all the assembly instructions were concise and very easy to follow. This was not one of those crafty projects in which figuring out which end is up and what goes where stifles the learning process.

After their lapbook was complete, I interviewed the boys. My first impression was that they really enjoyed creating the lapbook. Secondly, I had to admit that they learned a lot about amphibians. They were able to recall in detail most of the material covered in the study. I asked them what they liked the most and the least about the lapbook. They both had many answers for the "most" question… the booklets were interesting and varied, it wasn't boring, the writing was not too difficult, and the graphics were appealing.

The aspects they did not enjoy had more to do with personal preference and how I implemented the plans. Orville commented that the cutting was difficult at times. Some of the booklets do require more developed fine motor skills. If you have a child who struggles with fine motor coordination, you may see this as a negative or you may see it as something that would benefit him or her and help develop these skills.

Wilbur, my tactile child, loved putting together the lapbook. His only criticism was that he had to share the work with Orville. He wanted to complete all the booklets himself. This played right into his learning style, and I have decided that lapbooks are far better than I judged them to be. In fact, the boys will be completing A Journey through Learning's Autumn lapbook over our two-week fall break. I feel confident they can do this as a mini-project, unassisted, while I lesson plan. I am considering including more A Journey through Learning lapbooks in our regular school work, particularly for Wilbur.

Though we have not completed the other four lapbooks, I have thoroughly inspected them. They are all of the same quality as the amphibians books. The study guides contain everything needed for the research aspect of the project. The instructions are clear and well-done. The booklets are cute and easy to print. They are great for tactile-kinesthetic and visual learners, and if you read and discuss as you complete the projects, they are good for the auditory learner as well.

There are few statements in the Parables lapbook that did not exactly mesh with the doctrinal beliefs I hold. Rest assured that A Journey through Learning promotes a Christian worldview. I recognized and appreciated that, particularly in the science studies. However, when providing a study guide for the teaching of Scripture, doctrinal differences can be difficult to avoid. If you think this could be a problem for you, take a minute to look at this sample.

You can purchase each lapbook with study guide as an instant download (what I received) for $13, on CD for $14, or in printed form for $21. They do offer free shipping on the CD or printed form if that is your preference. Additionally, you will need these materials: folders, printer and ink, printer paper, brads, staples, stapler, scissors, and glue.

Overall, I give A Journey through Learning two thumbs up. They blew my preconceived notions about lapbooks to smithereens which means they're good. Really Good!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The National Bible Bee

I have good news and bad news. Let's get the bad news out of the way.

Orville did not qualify for the national competition. :(

Now, for the good news.

He won 2nd place at the local competition where he took the preliminary tests! He was awarded a check for $50 which was made out to him personally and sealed in a silver envelope along with a 2nd place certificate. It was such a generous prize with such nice personal touches, and he felt so special receiving it. I want to send a thank you to Stacey and everyone who helped her make our local Bee possible and so very enjoyable.

The grand prize, however, was won by all who participated. It was the time spent delving into the Word of God while meditating on and memorizing so many Bible passages. By the time of the competition, Orville had memorized 100... a feat I did not think was possible.

Actually, he did not think it possible either. When the study materials first arrived, we both felt overwhelmed. He did not really get motivated until two weeks before the competition date. Then, things just started to click. Not only could he recite the verses when called upon by his dad or me, but he started bringing Scripture up in daily conversation.

While reading a story one day, he said, "This situation makes me think of 1 Cor 10:13" Then, he went on to explain why.

When contemplating a decision another day, he recalled a verse he had learned from Proverbs and decided he needed to complete the task at hand.

He even wanted copies of audio recordings of sermons on the passages he had memorized.

When we began studying, my prayer was that he would be motivated to hide God's Word in his heart so that he might not sin against God, thinking more of later than now. I thought of him preparing for his future calling so that he would be fully equipped for every good work. A future father, teacher, missionary, leader, or "whatever else the Lord might call him to do" building up his arsenal.

I was reminded as he studied, however, that God's word does not return void. It is not something that is just stored up for the future, like an arrow sitting in a quiver waiting for the archer to pull it out and shoot it. When we memorize it, we are not tucking it neatly away for a time when it may become useful.

The Bible is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness... in the present. The more time we spend in the Word daily, the more we become like Christ, daily. In this article on scripture memory, John Piper gives six reasons for Scripture memorization, all of which deal with our day-to-day walk with the Lord.

So, we have a made a pledge to be more diligent in memorizing on a daily basis, even when it is not Bible Bee season. Likewise, I encourage you to get your children involved in next year's Bible Bee. Only three children out of thousands will win the big scholarships, but every child will reap the rewards of studying the Bible with such intensity.

I am thankful for The National Bible Bee and for the Shelby Kennedy Foundation and pray that God will be pleased to use this ministy to raise up a generation of men and women who will say like Jeremiah, "When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart's delight." (Jer 15:16)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Product Review: STUDYPOD

STUDYPOD is offering a $5 discount to Olive Plants readers. Continue reading for details!

What's compact, sturdy, versatile, and will keep your neck and back from aching?

This handy little book holder has so many uses… from propping up cookbooks in the kitchen to freeing your hands for typing copy from a printed source. Most importantly, it supports proper posture and holds books of varied sizes at just the right angle to take the strain off your neck while reading, studying, or typing.

Each of my boys used our STUDYPOD for their school reading assignments and liked it. Orville's comment was that he liked not having to hold his books open. He said that it kept it his hands from getting tired while forcing the pages apart and relieved his arms, too.

Wilbur just thought it was cool. I noticed that he was more on-task with it because he is a tactile boy who often "fidgets" while reading. He frequently loses his place while reading because he puts the book down to pick up Legos; whereas, with STUDYPOD, the book was held for him and his hands were free to fidget to his heart's desire. I'm sure moms of tactile learners can relate!

I used our STUDYPOD most frequently in the kitchen. I loved that it held any recipe book. You know how varied in size those are, and the STUDYPOD held them all. I didn't get any messes or splatters on my books either and was able to easily read the instructions while completing my work. Similarly, I was able to use it in the classroom to display read-aloud books so the boys could see the pictures while I read to them.

I also like that the STUDYPOD positioned Orville's books in a way that he had no choice but to "use" his glasses properly when reading. He wears progressive bifocals and is constantly trying to peak over his glasses when reading. The angle at which the STUDYPOD positioned his book prevented him from "cheating" while reading.

The STUDYPOD is easy to use, light-weight, compact, and has a storage pocket inside… all great features that make it portable and great for organization. They are available in three colors- black, blue, or pink.

You can purchase a STUDYPOD at their website for $19.95 and if you enter the code: TOSBLOG5 upon checkout, you will receive a $5 discount!

The BlogFrog

Olive Plants is now on BlogFrog.

If you enjoy my little blog, look for the widget and click "how do I show up here?". You can link in and get a little more exposure for your blog while helping mine in the process.

I also started a BlogFrog community for Olive Plants. This is a place for all of us Olive Planters to interact. I have started a discussion on motivating homeschooled students. Click the green BlogFrog "Visit My Community" widget to join in on the conversation.

Thanks. I look forward to seeing you around here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sisterhood Award

When I think sisterhood, I immediately think "sorority sisters". Maybe that's because I am an only child and some of my most special friendships developed during my college years at the Baptist Student Union. Technically, we were not a sorority but we called ourselves the beta-sigma-upsilons, beta-sigs for short, and enjoyed the bonds of sisterhood in the Lord.

One of my sweet BSU sisters, Heather @ Kingdom Arrows, awarded me the Sisterhood Award for being a good bloggy (and irl) friend. We were in each other's weddings, and now, through the internet, we are able to keep in touch on a regular basis and encourage each other in the Lord. I am thankful for my sweet BSU sister, turned reformer... just like me!

I want to pass the Sisterhood Award to another one of my BSU sisters, turned blogger, who just happens to be named Heather also. Heather @ Heather's Blog and I have been friends for almost twenty years. We were roommates in college, bridesmaids in each other's weddings, and prayer partners. Oh, and she composed an original song and played it on the piano while my other bridesmaids, including Kingdom Arrow's Heather, serenaded Michael and me with the lyrics she wrote based on Ruth 1:16.

She gave me for my birthday several years ago a beautiful decorative plaque inscribed with the following poem. I think it sums up the Sisterhood Award quite well.

author unknown

We've shared so much

laughter, shared so many tears.

We've a spiritual kinship

that grows stronger each year.

We're not sisters by birth, but we've

known from the start, God put us

together to be Sisters-in-heart.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


My husband and I love linguistic jokes. We're known to say things like don't forget to put the em-PHA-sis on the wrong syl-LA-ble. For this reason, we can never pronounce the word "potpourri"correctly. We know how to pronounce it, but just find much more enjoyable to say Pot-Pour-EE instead.

Here's a potpourri (I'll leave the pronunciation up to you) of recent Olive Plants events.

We finished the first five weeks of TOG Y3 unit 4. I am saving the final four weeks of this unit for the next nine weeks. This has given me the time needed to teach from the materials for my Crew reviews.

Orville has completed the first unit of Singapore 5A, and Wilbur finished 3B. He will start the 4A books next nine weeks. They have also completed their daily writing and editing assignments, the first lesson of Lively Latin, the study on the Kings of Israel, the first unit of Chemistry, and some Japanese. They both memorized the first 15 Shorter Catechism Q & A's, and Orville memorized 100 Bible verses in preparation for the Bible Bee.

The National Bible Bee
Yes, you read that correctly... 100 verses (some were more like passages). We praise the Lord for blessing him with such a wonderful ability to memorize.

He competed in the local Bee last Saturday, and we will know whether he placed locally and/or will advance to the national competition on Saturday. There will be a post here on Olive Plants about it either way; however, if he makes nationals, you will hear me squealing wherever you may live, regardless of how far away it may be from my home. :)

Win, lose, or draw, however, it has been a fabulous experience spending so much time meditating on God's Word.

Wilbur's soccer season began two weeks ago. He is having a great time and has made several new friends. Orville missed his first tennis lesson to compete in the Bible Bee, so he will start on Saturday.

The Money Pit
We have a second remodeled room with what we think is a water-damaged floor. The plumber is coming by tomorrow to check it out, but we're pretty sure we have a leak somewhere in the bathroom. The linoleum is changing color in spots. It looks like water spreading underneath. The proof that we grow in grace as we experience trials has been evident in the peace and calm that the Lord has given me about this. Still, your prayers are appreciated.

I will begin teaching flute lessons next week. My student is the daughter of good friends of ours. We go to church together. This is something she has been wanting to do for some time and is very excited about starting. I am excited to have such an eager student and look forward to having someone to play with as well as to teach.

Weight Watchers
I started a Weight Watchers program two months ago. I have been hesitant about blogging about it because weight is a touchy subject for me, as with most women, and I don't want my blog to turn into a weight loss report. However, I have lost 10 pounds! That is about how much weight I put on in two years, so I feel good about losing it in two months and praise God for his help in this matter.

I have more to lose as I gained quite a bit over the years of bed rest during pregnancies and from living with chronic pain that made excercise near impossible. Though it took surgery and months of therapy, the Lord has been pleased to heal me and remove that pain. Now, it is time for me to seek Him and through His help and blessing to work toward a healthy weight again.

Future Posts
I have several posts in-the-works, including four product reviews and the next Birding 101 post. I am also contemplating starting a once-per-month advice column, sort of like "Dear Abby" only pertaining to homeschool topics. I have received so many questions from readers and friends lately. I really enjoy answering these questions and think they would make good posts. Let me know what you think, and if you have a question you want to shoot my way, please feel free to ask it as a comment or shoot it to me via e-mail.



Monday, September 7, 2009

Subscribe to The Old Schoolhouse™ Magazine for only $7.95!

Homeschooling is a Labor of Love, and the Old Schoolhouse™ Magazine is celebrating your hard work as a parent by putting their one-year print subscriptions on sale! For a very limited time, you can subscribe or renew for $7.95! (US only). International customers can subscribe to the digital edition for only 7.95!

You can buy a gift sub for friends, too! To gift a subscription:

1. Go to the one-year subscription page (US only)

2. Scroll to the bottom of the page.

3. Enter the name, address, email, and phone information for each recipient.

4. Click "Add this to my cart".

5. The information will display in your cart and simply proceeed to check out.

There are only 2000 of these available, and they are going quickly! Your subscription begins with their Fall Issue.

If you live in an international location, you can subscribe to their digital edition for only $7.95! It's the same great content as their print magazine, except it is instant and interactive!